Breathe in, breathe out

I had this thought while driving to work this morning. It’s so obvious I’m surprised no one has built a book around it yet. Or perhaps they have, and I just don’t know about it. At any rate, this could wind up being the skeleton on which a future book proposal of mine is built…

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets (Matthew 22:37-40, NRSV).

Here is the schema for Christian spirituality. The first commandment signifies the realm of mystical spirituality: the spirituality of the mysteries. By falling in love with God, we are ushered into the Divine mysteries: the mystery of grace, the mystery of penance, the mystery of light, the mystery of deification, the mystery of ecstatic consciousness. Here we discover the image and likeness of God, engraved in our hearts.

The second commandment signifies the realm of communal spirituality: the spirituality of encountering Christ in service to the other. This is the realm of Benedictine hospitality and Jesuit spiritual guidance, of the Celtic love for nature and the Franciscan embrace of Holy Poverty.  Here we find the liberation theologian’s commitment to social justice and the charitable work of the Salvation Army or the St. Vincent de Paul society.

If the first commandment represents the spirituality of receiving from God, the second commandment represents the equally important spirituality of passing on what we have received to others.

I think it can be likened to breathing: mystical spirituality is the “breathing in” of Divine Love and Light, while communal spirituality is the “breathing out” of such love and light in our efforts to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Just as you can’t keep breathing in without breathing out (or vice versa), so too these two dimensions of Christian spirituality are absolutely dependent on each other: you can’t be a contemplative without loving the neighbor as yourself, and you won’t have love to give to your neighbor without grounding yourself in the life of contemplation.

Like I said: it’s obvious.

Pentecost and Ecstasy
In Memoriam: Kenneth Leech
What Has Not Yet Been Revealed
Mysticism and the Divine Feminine: An Interview with Mirabai Starr
About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • Sean

    Take a look at Deus Caritas Est by Benedict XVI. The two parts roughly correspond to 1) love of God and 2) love of neighbor.

  • Maria

    Puts me in mind of “Journey Inward/Journey Outward” by Elizabeth O’Connor. I’m not sure she links so closely to love God/love neighbor.

  • Sarah

    Thank you.
    For a long time I have been seeking and drowning in theology, philosophy – and some utter rubbish – trying to find my spiritual path, my God. I don’t know what brought me to this site and this entry in particular (I confess I skipped much that went before – sorry) but it was like being hit by a sledgehammer! This is it – this is all there is and everything else is superfluous. Instantly I feel calmer, at peace. I can see the way forward. Bless you.